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Over the last few months I have heard some conversations about seeking out additional training/certifications or additional responsibilities in the department. I have heard these conversations lead into statements such as “what’s the department going to give me in return for obtaining these things.” I have heard the “what’s in it for me” statement also thrown around a few times. There are a number of things out there that could potentially infect our fire service in a negative way. To me, the “what’s in it for me” mentality is a potential disease and we need to head it off as soon as possible.

I think sometimes this way of thinking could stem from an organizational leadership problem, but largely falls on the individual. It takes our focus off of the mission of the fire service and in the end hurts the service to our community.

Mostly, people are looking for extrinsic rewards for doing the things mentioned above. Extrinsic rewards could be something tangible or physically given to you for your performance. I am not saying that these rewards aren’t good or even deserved, but they should not be the driving force in our performance.

There have several studies conducted by Psychologist Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester that looked at various types of employees and their work performance. It was found that extrinsic rewards can actually erode intrinsic interest. People who see themselves as working for money, approval or competitive success find their tasks less enjoyable, and therefore do not do them as well.

So let’s look at the intrinsic reward. An intrinsic reward is an intangible award of recognition, a sense of accomplishment, or a conscious fulfillment. For example, it is the knowledge that you did something to make someone’s day, or you made an impact in someone’s life. Because intrinsic rewards are intangible, they usually self driven and arise from whoever is involved in the performance It is a sense that whatever task or job we are doing is worth doing for its own sake. It is worth doing because it can contribute to something larger than us. It will contribute to the mission of the fire service


A lot of these studies involved creative thinking, but an equal amount involved task level performances, similar to tasks we perform in our fire departments. These studies showed that intrinsic interest in a task—the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake—typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it. So, how are we driving these tasks? What drives you and will it ultimately lead you into doing things for the wrong reasons and starve your job satisfaction?


It should not be the extrinsic rewards that drive our behavior. It should not be the extrinsic rewards that bring us to the firehouse every day. It is the intrinsic rewards that motivate us and make us want to perform better. It is these types of rewards that will benefit us, our departments, our citizens, and our communities. The intrinsic rewards lead us to a feeling of purpose and that we are contributing to the mission and much more. As leaders we have to find ways to make people appreciate the intrinsic rewards. I feel like the "what's in it for me" mentality is a disease that may infect our fire service and we should fight to keep it away.

Remember...Mission first and always, and service over self!

Jarrod Sergi

REAL Fire Training LLC

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